Eugene Robinson Live

Sep 25, 2012

Robinson discussed his latest columns and political news.

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Welcome, everyone. You know the drill. Let's get started.

Gene, I have written you before in the chat, and you were somewhat receptive of my idea on Voter ID. The fact that documented voter fraud hasn't occurred on a large scale before doesn't mean that it couldn't easily be a problem in the future. Box cutters on airplanes weren't a problem until 9/11 and the response was we got the TSA. I would like to think a sane level headed discussion beforehand not only would have prevented the attack, but also would have lead to a better solution. The problem isn't that Voter ID laws exist, its that they are a defacto poll tax (obviously illegal). If all you need to vote is an name and a address, I can get this info online very easily. Lets not pretend that this information isn't far more available than at any point in our past. The solution is free IDs for anyone who can't afford them (with a very low standard of proof) and accepting a broad range of documents to get an ID. Numerous voter ID laws have been upheld as legal, while some have not. The end goal should be to protect our elections from anyone who is not allowed to vote, without preventing anyone from voting that is legally allowed. Its time to get with the 21st century and realize we need an ID to do almost anything official, using one to vote isn't a big reach.

You're referring to today's column, which is about the shameful and politically motivated new voter ID laws. You could theoretically design a fair system, but I have always believed, and still believe, that it's wrong to put up any barriers to voting unless there is a problem. Generally speaking, I thought, conservatives disapprove of laws to regulate behavior that already regulates itself. Except in this case, I guess.

A bunch of articles this morning on the bias (or lack of) in many polls. Are we now in a blame the pollsters for the Romney campaign's issues?

Puh-leeze. When a campaign starts blaming the pollsters, it's in trouble. Look, you can look at the party composition of all the samples, you can look at registered voters versus likely voters, you can look at polls that reach people without land lines versus polls that don't... The bottom line is that Obama has a lead now, but by no means is this thing out of reach for Romney. Blaming the pollsters is never an attractive thing for a campaign to do.

Hi Gene, my question is 3fold. One, is the President pulling away as polls suggest, or still a nail biter as some on the right suggest? If tight, as you mentioned in your latest piece, with some voter ID laws already in place, is the election within a close enough margin that it can be, dare I say, stolen? Lastly, is it really possible to manipulate enough states to in essence fix the outcome? I don't want to be a worry troll, but these fellas are coming off way to assured and cocky even. They seem to be whistling Dixie, or serenading as the Titanic slips into oblivion. BTW, I love listening to your baritone voice. It helps that you always have incredible wisdom to impart. Thanks for your voice. Sandra

Thanks. Whether it's a big lead or a little lead is hard to tell. My guess, for what it's worth, is that the lead is not tiny. But ask me again in a couple of weeks.

Yes, the voter suppression efforts are awful and retrograde. But another fundamental problem is that most of the districts in the US have been so gerrymandered (on both sides) that there are only a small percentage of them that are truly contested. The President is important but our system needs to have the possibility of congressional turnover to engender good behavior from our representatives. What can be done about that ? I don't like term limits but something has to be done about the way districts are drawn.

States have begun to experiment with ways to take the redistricting process out of the hands of the politicians who use it to gerrymander the safest possible constituencies. Maybe that will work.

I'm guessing this is a 10th Amendment thing, but I'm guessing the Justice Department can't just squash the new ID rules as a violation of the Voting Rights Act. This entire thing seems to me an argument in favor of a single nationwide voting policy rather than states rights- that probably wouldn't make me popular with the tea party either...

No, you won't be elected to the Tea Party Hall of Fame. There are provisions of the Voting Rights Act, concerning minority voting rights, that essentially only apply to Southern states. These provisions were used by the Justice Department to challenge the new voter ID law in South Carolina; closing arguments were heard in that case yesterday. But the provisions don't apply, for example, in the case of the new Pennsylvania law.

Gene, it's always striking how misinformed those on the right are, but it's starting to get scary with them now saying that the polls are a conspiracy. If everything is a conspiracy to them, then nothing will ever be legitimate that doesn't dovetail with their views. If that's the case, we'll never get a deal on the Grand Bargain or anything really. The GOP establishment has got to cut ties soon or seriously risk losing credibility, or is that just a liberal fantasy?

At some point, the GOP has to rejoin the mainstream if it is to remain relevant. I think the party will sort itself out eventually, but it might take a while.

Hi Eugene -- Thanks for taking questions today. With the debates taking on even greater importance (especially for Gov. Romney), what do you think we can expect to see in the hotly anticipated event next week? My guess is Romney is going to come out with all guns blazing and will throw every punch that he can (to mix metaphors), but I'm less sure about what to expect from the president. There were times during the 2008 debates where, to be honest, I cringed a little bit (even though I support him fully) in to then Sen. Clinton, "you're likable enough." Anything even close to that type of condescension would be, to put it mildly, not good and would give Romney an opening. What do you think?

I don't think it's possible to condescend to Mitt Romney. I don't mean that as a dig, I just mean that he has neither the temperament nor the persona to be perceived as a victim. So I wouldn't worry about that. I think Romney will try hard to be aggressive, Obama will try hard to be positive rather than defensive, and the moderators will have their hands full. It's easy to envision sparks, hard to see a knockout either way.

The home page of the Post today features links to columns by Marc Thiessen and Jen Rubin excoriating the President for his handling of foreign issues, especially Libya. My question is, why does anyone think this really matters to the vast bulk of the electorate? After all, George Bush was reelected following the greatest terrorist attack in American history, and Ronald Reagan won reelection despite getting a couple hundred Marines killed in their sleep in Beirut. The fact is (and it's a sad fact, to me) about 95% of the electorate doesn't care about foreign policy or foreign aid, so why waste precious column inches and stump speeches on this? Thanks.

Romney and his supporters would rather talk about anything, in my view, other than the 47 percent worldview that Romney won't disown. Some polls see softness in Obama's approval on foreign affairs, but not a lot. It's a way of changing the subject.

The issue for some of us is the following: - there is no evidence of a significant problem anywhere - there is zero argument that the Republican Party is pushing for these rules because it will reduce votes for Democrats. None of my Republican friends believes the GOP is concerned with the integrity of the elections Unlike, for instance, President Bush's solid fight against HIV/AIDS which was based on decency (and doing his job for 100% of the US and the world) but probably gave his party no advantage in the elections.

That pretty much sums it up.

I believe you've made this point, but it's worth repeating: large, or even medium size, voter fraud can not happen by impersonators on voting day. People need to think for 5 seconds: it would take thousands and thousands of fraudsters in NYC, LA, or any big city to sway an election. Who could organize all these thousands and thousands of impersonators? Wouldn't word get out? Wouldn't at good proportion of these thousands and thousands of real people come to the polls and find they've already voted? In smaller towns, people know each other, so that would eliminate the problem there. As you've said, this is a completely inefficient, complicated, and risky way to execute voter fraud.

Of course you're right. Now, supporters of these laws say they are justified if they keep even one person from committing fraud. But in the case of Pennsylvania, state officials could not or would not produce evidence of even ONE SINGLE CASE of impersonation fraud. Not one. Ever.

I got my VA registration card, along with the description of what counts as ID in VA, in the mail this week. VA counts the voter ID card as an acceptable form ID. I have no problem with this - every registered voter gets mailed one, there's no charge, and there's no need to go hunt down additional paperwork. It seems the resistance should be more against the specific requirements for state-issued photo ID, but I'm curious as to your thoughts on that.

It's a matter of degree. In principle, I'm against all these new laws because they "solve" a problem that doesn't exist. But Virginia's, yes, is less onerous than the others.

Forgive me if this is a bit vague of a question. There's been a lot of criticism of the President's foreign policy in regards to the Middle East, specifically Iran. We had eight years of a "neo-con" foreign policy under Bush. Neither have been spectacularly successful. I'm starting to wonder if there is no success in this area, only mitigation. What do you think?

Specifically on Iran, President Obama drew a pretty bright line today: The United States will do what it has to do to keep Iran from having a nuclear weapon. Romney says the same thing; and neither Obama nor Romney (nor any future president) would allow any other leader, no matter how good an ally, to decide when that line has been crossed. I don't know if that qualifies as a neocon policy, or if it qualifies as mitigation, but that's the way it is.

In Iowa the Republican Secretary of State has stoutly maintained that voter fraud is a problem, despite the response from the state's county auditors (who monitor their country elections) saying that it is not a problem. The SOS has now spent $125K checking databases and THREE people (two of them Canadians) have been charged with voter fraud. This seems to be a "solution" in search of a problem.

As I have said all along. (New Romney ad: Self-deportation for Canadians?)

I asked this question last week, thought I'd try a resubmit - I don't understand the "theoretical" basis as to why the income tax is counted as a "real" tax and social security and other taxes taken from paychecks are not allowed to count. I do understand that the people who make this assertion are doing it to denigrate the less affluent, but I don't understand why, or how, they frame this issue to themselves - that some taxes can be counted as taxes, and others cannot?

I'm sorry, but I don't know the answer. Those seem like real taxes to me.

How can you continue to write about new state voter ID laws without even mentioning the Stevens (no conservative, he) decision upholding Indiana's voter ID law against equal protection attack? SCOTUS wrote that it is a wholly legitimate state issue to "prevent" voter fraud. "Prevent" means to forestall. You do not need evidence of extant fraud to "prevent" future fraud. Words are important and SCOTUS does not use them lightly.

It may come as a shock but I don't agree with every Supreme Court ruling. You do, I suppose.

Maybe it is time for us to revert back to underdeveloped democracies and just dip our fingers in permanent ink when we vote? I guess I expect better from the world's greatest country!

Don't get me started. Does it make sense that from county to county and state to state, we have this hodgepodge of rules for how people can vote in a national election? Does it make sense that the ballots are all different, the voting methods are all different, the polling hours are all different? For that matter, does it make sense to vote on a Tuesday, when people have to go to work, as opposed to the weekend, which is when most other countries schedule their elections? The Founders wanted to be very picky about who was able to vote, and they got their wish.

I just read the transcript and it brought tears to my eyes. How do you think it will be perceived by the press and pundits? Thanks!

I thought it was a very good speech -- an explanation and affirmation of American values, very nicely written and delivered. Aside from the bright line on Iran, it was pretty light on specifics. I think pundits will opine that the president wanted to make music rather than news.

Gene, it's looking like it's all gonna come down to this first debate. If Mr. Romney doesn't deliver a knockout blow or isn't declared the undisputed winner by the pundits, then there doesn't appear to be anything that can dislodge the president's big Mo. I know that most commentators like to hem and haw and throw out what-if's, but all of the data shows that this close to the election no one with a lead comparable to the president's has lost except Thomas Dewey in the late 1940's. Am I missing something here?

Only that unprecedented things never happen in politics until... they happen. So maybe someday someone will match Dewey's feat of blowing a lead. If it's going to happen this year, I think Romney needs to put a lot of emphasis on that first debate. The subsequent debates offer less of a chance to change the dynamic of the race.

I'm even more convinced that the big money being spent on TV ads this year is not effective. One ad comes on saying something about Obama and China, followed by some ad talking about Romney and China. Does anyone pay attention to what these ads are saying - I say no.

From the point of view of local television stations, this is great -- a monsoon of money. From the point of view of the two campaigns, this is madness. They know most of these advertising dollars are being wasted. But nobody wants to risk those few marginal votes that could tip a state into the win column. I've seen the China-bashing ads running back-to-back, too, and it's hysterical.

"Everyone" has been saying for months that the Republican candidate needs to focus on the economy and jobs (not the deficit, not the debt, etc.) Saying that the current President has not brought lasting peace to the Middle East seems like another time waster. Focus, people, Focus!

"Everyone" has ADHD.


And that's it for distraction today, folks. My time is up. Thanks for participating, and I'll see you again next week!

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Eugene Robinson
Eugene Robinson is an Associate Editor and twice-weekly columnist for The Washington Post. His column appears on Tuesdays and Fridays. In a 25-year career at The Post, Robinson has been city hall reporter, city editor, foreign correspondent in Buenos Aires and London, foreign editor, and assistant managing editor in charge of the paper's award-winning Style section. In 2005, he started writing a column for the Op-Ed page. He is the author of "Coal to Cream: A Black Man's Journey Beyond Color to an Affirmation of Race" (1999) and "Last Dance in Havana" (2004). Robinson is a member of the National Association of Black Journalists and has received numerous journalism awards.
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